This year’s NBA Finals is a rematch between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, with LeBron James and company looking to extract revenge on league MVP Stephen Curry and his cronies as they upended a depleted Cavaliers team in the championship round last season.
While many will look to last year’s six-game slugfest to draw comparisons to this year, that would prove to be an exercise in futility as there are a handful of differences between last year’s versions of these squads and current day. In this post I’ll highlight what I believe will be the biggest difference for both teams.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Presence of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love
That was obvious, no? Cleveland was forced to battle the Warriors without two of their top dogs last summer, leading many to believe that if James were flanked with his two All-Star teammates he would’ve walked away the victor. With Love and Irving out, James was forced to shoulder a mammoth load which became simply too much to bear.
There were no other reliable shot or playmakers on the floor with James, making it even more difficult to bend an already sturdy Warriors defense. With Love and Irving out there, Golden State will have to think twice about doubling James in the post, and will have to be very selective about when the help comes, and where exactly it comes from.
Also Cleveland is now better equipped for the small-ball battle that is sure to ensue, although going big and playing slow in last year’s Finals is what helped them temporarily highjack the series. I’m particularly interested in how Love and Irving fare defensively, which may determine how much they’re used on the floor in crunch-time (especially Love, Channing Frye may be the better option in these scenarios.)
Lastly, Timofey Mozgov was the Cavaliers’ second leading scorer in the 2015 Finals with 14 points a night. This postseason Mozgov has played a total of 50 minutes, going to show you the stark contrast between last year’s Cavaliers club and this seasons. Irving and or Love will most likely assume the role of the team’s second-leading scorer in this series, which must make James ecstatic.
Golden State Warriors: Paging Klay Thompson and Draymond Green
I don’t understand why everyone glosses over the fact that Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were rather quiet in last year’s NBA Finals.
Thompson was invisible for majority of the series aside from his 34-point Game 2 eruption, and was rendered ineffective whenever slotted on James. Thompson shot 40% from the field and 30% from downtown, depriving Golden State of peak offensive functionality.
Green was not much better, as he shot 38% from the floor and 26% from three. Green has never been a three-point marksman, but he’s much better than that abomination of a percentage. One thing that resonated with me in regards to Green was that he seemed jittery for most of the series. Green will have to harness his energy a little bitter this time around, especially when a suspension looming if he picks up another flagrant foul.
Thompson has arguably been the Warriors’ best player this postseason, so expect his success on the offensive end to continue this series. Green is a little bit more of an outlier here, but I believe he’s slated for a bounce-back series. After struggling against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, Green understands how instrumental he is to his teams success. The playoffs are all about matchups and the one with Kevin Love is favorable for Green.
These two differences will tilt the series in a major way, and will most likely determine if we see a Warriors repeat or a King finally bring his crown home to a championship-starved city and fan-base. Buckle up everyone. We’re in for a classic.